By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear , 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
/ Published February 10, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- While members of Air Forces Southern, the Air Component to U.S. Southern Command, are managing air traffic through the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a team of contracting and finance Airmen are ensuring the newly stood-up 24th Air Expeditionary Group has the supplies and equipment needed to accomplish its mission.
Master Sgt. Joseph Robinson, a budget analyst and paying agent for the 24th AEG, and Tech. Sgt. Eric Chase, the unit's contracting officer, are working as a team to locate hard-to-find supplies and equipment in the earthquake ravaged city despite traffic congestion, language barriers and epic shortages on store shelves. The duo, deployed from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., purchase items ranging from pipe fittings for camp showers, oil and filters for generators, to wood and nails, car and truck rentals, as well as, massive Caterpillar tractors.
"You never know what the next form might request," Sergeant Chase said. "You have to be able to talk to an aircraft mechanic, an engineer, security forces, a computer specialist or a commander and decipher what products will fill their needs."
Once the team receives requirements from units, they locate vendors in Haiti carrying the product, compare prices and fees, then purchase. Some services, such as trash removal or sanitation, require careful quality assurance monitoring and weekly payments. "Communications lines are down throughout the country, so many retail stores are unable to process Government Purchase Card transactions," said Sergeant Chase. "In those cases, the Air Force pays cash or is billed for the goods and services."
After the Jan. 12 earthquake, supplies at most retailers are low or non-existent. "In some cases we've needed 40 of an item and stores only had five in stock," explained Sergeant Robinson. "In those cases, we buy all we can and do without...commerce is important to help retailers get back on their feet, but first they need products to sell."
Most of the items the team has been purchasing are related to the build-up of Air Force Airmen at the airport. Airmen assigned to the 24th AEG have been living in rough conditions for some time, but slowly the finance/contracting team are bringing the camp to more steady-state conditions. Showers were installed last week (many Airmen had to wait four or more days between showers), as well as, washers and dryers, (clothes were cleaned in buckets), more portable toilets brought in and wood was purchased to construct outdoor tables and put floors inside tents.
Other items the duo need to source Airmen typically would purchase at an Army-Air Force Exchange outlet, such as laundry soap. Since there is no way for Airmen to find these items for sale, the team is shipping 500lbs of soap from the U.S. to the Air Force camp. "Fortunately, we've got a robust airlift system in place, so hard-to-find items may be brought in on C-17 or C-130 transports," Sergeant Robinson said. "Obviously, the first airlift priority is food, medical supplies and aid materials -- if there's room left, then we may be able to get a little space for AEG requirements."
While working in town, the team is able to gain a unique perspective on the effects of the earthquake. "Store owners and business people tell us about how the earthquake has changed business in Haiti," said Sergeant Robinson. "Stores are open despite cracked walls, broken signs and windows and fallen roofs. For some, it's a boom -- for example, construction equipment rental houses have everything rented on long term contracts. Others are glad to see the military presence, because without our purchasing, they would have no business. The good thing to watch is how each day commerce is growing, more people are coming back to work. Businesses are opening steadily and consumers are beginning to buy the things they need for day-to-day life."
Still, don't expect to find a favorite brand or particular vendor. "Everyone in the AEG and the joint team, the dozens of non-governmental organizations in country and at downtown stores is concentrating on the essentials -- no frills," said Sergeant Chase.
The team's advice for any unit heading for a deployment to austere or contingency response location: "Bring everything you need, because there may not be a store at your deployed location that carries what your mission needs. We can only purchase what's here for sale."